Manchester's Night And Day played host to the city's third Psych Fest, a day full of ten acts in one venue starting mid-afternoon into the early hours of the next day. From local bands through to nationally and internationally recognised bands, the line-up consisted of a wide scope of the bands that fall under the "psych" banner. In the first part we review the first five acts - Freakout Honey, Black Lung, White Noise Sound, Déja Vegà and Hey Bulldog.
This is Freakout Honey's first gig. We know little about them other than two of them used to be in Purple Heart Parade and the one demo track they've revealed ahead of this show - The Witch Surf - places them firmly in the psych camp. They start off with a brooding hazy, almost languid, track that builds slowly, creating its own atmosphere (not withstanding the smoke machine that the operator seems exceptionally fond of) with swirling guitars, of which there's three on stage plus a bass player, and a driving drum pattern.
As the set progresses, people's ears prick up and they start to pay more attention. If they were an established band, we'd be impressed - as it's their debut, well it's as strong a one as we've ever heard. Their songs aim high and hit the spot every time, they build slowly but with an irresistible irreversible sense of purpose with vocalist Sofia drifting in and out, swooping over the haze created by her bandmates before diving back just under the surface with compelling effect. Despite there being six on stage, the songs have room to breathe, you can hear the contribution of each of them when they're given their head.
They don't say much, so we can't expand on song titles or any such trivia, but what we do know is that they're a name you're going to be hearing a lot more of in the future. As well as great songs, they've got a look that screams out at you wherever you look - rock star guitarist, sultry mysterious singer exuding effortless cool and a bass player transfixed in a world of her own. It's a hard act for anyone else to follow.
Next up are Black Lung. They start with a throbbing exciting electronic track with a looping pulsating beat that then drops into a dark foreboding track with a repetitive refrain of "I've found a cure for love". This is the darker, harder side of psych, but the manner of its delivery is compelling, edgy and disconcerting sucking you into a swirling maelstrom of uncertainty, shot through by moments where they suddenly change tack and gear.
As the set progresses they open up their sound, loosening the shackles to create something a little less claustrophobic yet no less rewarding. The lyrics retain their dark side though - their final song Black Bones expanded out from the version they'd revealed a video for coming to an end with "I want to see you crawling" repeated with a menacing snarl.
Next up are White Noise Sound, another band we knew little about before the show. The Swansea-based band returned earlier this year with a new album Like A Pyramid Of Fire. Armed with dual guitars as well as synths, they create a wall of noise around which they hang flashes of melody, hints of lightness to offset the shroud of darkness that envelops their sound as drums crash through and Dan and Aaron's vocals force their way past the wall of fuzzed up guitars.
As their set progresses, the crowd that had dispersed slightly after the local bands come back in, drawn forward by their driving rhythms. At points they remind us of the early Ride EPs in their sonic ambition where they try to wrestle melodies into the cacophony and at points they create something that really grabs us, but they never lose our attention even when they don't quite get to where they're aiming such is the quality of their material.
Next up are Even The Stars' favourites Déjà Vega and right from the staccato machine gun sound that opens their set, they take no prisoners. Everything is turned right up to the maximum as they all but assault their audience with their raw metallic vicious blasts of noise. They chop and change, start and stop, never letting the audience settle into a groove or heaven forbid a melody. Jack makes full use of his pedals, shredding vocals through them as well as creating all world of sounds you might not immediately recognise as guitar.
They're far from a one-man band though. Almost oblivious to the actions of their front man, other than the instinctive musical connection that they've developed over the past two years, drummer Tom creates the often driving other times rhythmic drum patterns that form the basis of the songs whilst Mike nonchalantly adds light and shade and hints of something more melodic to the sound. Déjà Vega are probably a bit too out there to get truly mass appeal but they're a band that you won't just like, it'll be full on love or nothing.
Despite the festival being advertised as a celebration of psych, it's testimony to the curation that the bands on the line-up all offer something different to the others on the bill and Hey Bulldog are no exception. They've been around the Manchester scene for a few years now but this is the first time we've seen them. Their take on psych is a filthy blues driven one with big soaring guitar solos and breakdowns, full of descending chords and in front man Rob Manton they've got a singer with a voice to back up that ambition.
At points it sounds like they're in the middle of a jam session, such is the fluidity of the sounds that are coming from the stage and it's that which ensures that they sound fresh and vibrant rather than repetitive as bands playing this style often do. This is big and bold blues that isn't afraid to wear influences on its sleeve, but played with enough style and appreciation to ensure that it feels absolutely contemporary and, other than The Sundowners, they're the band that look like they're enjoying it more than anyone else.
Freakout Honey are on Facebook and Twitter.
Black Lung are on Facebook and their official site can be found here.
White Noise Sound's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Déjà Vega are on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.
Hey Bulldog's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.